Accessibility to healthcare varies considerably between urban and rural areas. There is a shortage of not only sub-specialty care in rural areas but also primary care and healthcare providers. In this scenario, technology can play a huge role in making healthcare more accessible through telemedicine. Telemedicine refers to the delivery of healthcare services from a distance by leveraging telecommunication and information technology.
Telemedicine is being increasingly used to diagnose, treat, and evaluate patients without requiring them to visit a healthcare centre. This is usually done with the help of videoconferencing, high-precision cameras, monitors, sensors, and high-definition screens. So, by leveraging these technologies, telemedicine can help overcome the distance barrier and make healthcare more accessible to people living in remote areas.
By using telecommunication and information technology, doctors or healthcare providers can evaluate the condition of a patient and prescribe treatment accordingly. They can also examine the X-rays and MRI reports of their patients to diagnose the condition.
If the doctor is not present for videoconferencing, the patient information or data can be stored by using photos, videos, dictation, etc. Later on, the physician can access this information from the server, in order to diagnose and treat the patient. Apart from treatment and diagnosis, telemedicine can be effectively used for follow-up visits and also for managing chronic conditions and for consulting specialists.
There are basically 3 types of telemedicine – remote patient monitoring, store-and-forward, and interactive telemedicine. Remote patient monitoring or telemonitoring is use for patients with chronic diseases. With the help of mobile medical devices that can collect data about vital signs like blood sugar, blood pressure, etc., the patient can be monitored in his or her home.
Store-and-forward refers to storing and sharing patient information like results of laboratory tests or diagnostics images and videos with a physician located in another place. Here, the communication between the patient and the doctor does not take place in real-time. On the other hand, in interactive telemedicine, patients and physicians can communicate in real-time.
The main benefits of telemedicine is that it can increase accessibility to healthcare, reduce the need for outpatient visits, improve health outcomes, and reduce the overall cost of healthcare. It is especially suitable for people with limited mobility and those living in remote and difficult terrains.
Moreover, it can reduce the risk of transmission of infectious diseases from patients, as they can consult doctors without requiring to step out of their home. But, the inability to begin treatment immediately, costs of data management, and data protection, I.e., the protection of patient information are some of the main drawbacks associated with telemedicine.